Posts Tagged ‘Dining & Drinks’

2 Days in Alexandria and a Little More of Cairo

Sunset over Cairo from the Nile Hilton

Where we left off, June 30, Evan and I had a bit of a rough day in Cairo. It took us a long time to hail a taxi into the city from near our hotel, which was in the suburb of Mohandisseen, and about 10 minutes into our ride our cab was rear-ended. Being hit from behind, while we were stopped, forced us into the car in front of us, and then we were hit again from behind, most likely because the car that hit us first got hit again. It was quite a shock, but nobody got hurt, thankfully. It did, however, put a damper on our day.

The cab driver did manage to get us to our stop — a metro station only about 2 blocks away from where we were hit — and without much time to recuperate, we headed underground to figure out Cairo’s metro system. There are only two lines, so it was pretty easy, but everyone pushes to buy tickets and get on the train, though nobody seems to rush up and down the escalators like they do in London.

We finally arrived at the Coptic quarter where we relaxed for a bit, then visited the beautiful Coptic Museum, which was housed in an impressive building with ornate carved-wood ceilings and had a nice collection of stone carvings, textiles and books.

We wandered around the walled in Coptic quarter for a bit after we were done with the museum, but weren’t able to see much since it was after 4 — closing time for most of the attractions there.

To unwind from our stressful day, we went up to the rooftop bar at the Nile Hilton to grab a drink and watch the sunset over the Nile, then had a nice dinner at a great Lebanese restaurant, Sabaya, in the Intercontinental.

Alexandria, Egypt

We were feeling a litle overwhelmed in Cairo with all the noise and traffic, so we decided to head to Alexandria July 1. We took the train, which was nice and quick and air conditioned. While we were waiting on the platform, though, we saw something new — trains would come in on further platforms, and tons of passengers would be in such a hurry to get out that they would exit the wrong side, jumping down onto the tracks to scramble over to and climb up on another platform.

In Alexandria, we were happy to be able to walk to the center of town from the train station and found a nice little budget hotel right on the sea. We were 5 floors up and had a balcony with a great view of the coast and an accompanying sea breeze.

Fort Qaitbey

After getting some lunch at a rather touristy pizza shop, we walked west down the coast to Fort Qaitbey, which sits on the site of the old pharos/lighthouse of Alexandria, and was apparently made with some pieces of its ruins. The fort was picturesque and well-preserved, with great views of the city. It looked like a stylized fairy-tale castle and had lots of corridors, walks and rooms open to explore.

We stayed at the fort until closing time, then walked back down the corniche to our hotel where we watched the sunset from our balcony.

Biblioteca Alexandria

The next day, July 2, we visited the catacombs, Pompey’s Pillar and the Biblioteca Alexandria.

At the catacombs, we descended a spiral staircase surrounding a central pit – where bodies were lowered down — and then got to explore the underground world that was started as a family tomb in the 2nd century A.D. There was a room for the family to dine to mourn/celebrate their dead relatives, and there were plenty of crpyts to wander past in the maze of chambers. There were also some carvings and murals of Egyptian, Greek and Roman funerary practices and myths, like Isis and Osiris, and Hades and Persephone.

After our time underground — where we were the only tourists — we headed back up to the sunlight and down the street to see Pompey’s Pillar, the only roman remain left standing and intact in all of Alexandria. The pillar was monumental, but everything around it was in ruins. There was an underground library to explore, which was neat, and there were also some sphinxes brought in from Heliopolis. There was also supposedly a Nilleometer, and though we saw the sign for it, we couldn’t discern anything in the vicinity that could be used to measure the depth of the Nile.

We walked back to town and headed to the east end of the coast and to the library — Biblioteca Alexandria — the iconic disc-shaped building meant to be the modern verson of ancient Alexandria’s famed library, which was completely destroyed. As striking as the building is from the outside, looking like a UFO, the inside proves even grander, with a massive, open floor plan with tiered levels, plenty of computers and many different museum exhibits. We stayed until 7 p.m., closing time, enjoying the quiet, the air conditioning and the beautiful modern surroundings.

Today, July 3, we headed down the corniche once again, this time to seek out a juice bar which our guidebook said has the best mango juice. Ever. Well, I’m no mango juice connoisseur, but the pulpy juice was deliciously sweet and fresh and made a great breakfast. The juice bar was also quite a spectacle, entirely decorated with fruits, outside and in. It smelled fantastic.

We didn’t do much else in Alexandria save for heading to the train station to make our way back to Cairo. We found a nice little hotel downtown called the Hotel Osiris, and we took a sunset felucca ride on the Nile before a nice, relaxing dinner — a great way to spend our last night in town.

Tomorrow we’re off to Jordan to have more adventures… and hopefully we’ll be able to post some photos, too.

Best Supper Ever: Battlecat Speaks!

BSELast year, I got a curious friend request from something called “Best Supper Ever” on MySpace. I initially thought it might be spam, but when I clicked on the link to investigate further, I was bombarded with, well, awesomeness. I also knew some of the group’s founding members, so that helped met start following their silly supper antics, too.

Since its early days, Best Supper Ever has had a mission — to rate and review LA restaurants in search of, well, the best supper ever. The group of 20something diners then post their reviews in an easy-to-digest, visually delightful little module, with clever commentary from nicknamed reviewers, a wallet-pain chart that makes me grin every time I see it, and photos that make me want to start a supper club of my own (or at least get invited along to a BSE feast).

The brainchild of Marissa Mukavetz, AKA Battlecat, she rounded up her rag-tag group of friends, put her degree in photography and graphic design to work, and started a side project which is gaining new fans by the day.

Since I’ve always wanted to hang with the cool kids, I asked Battlecat to do an interview so I could learn more about the mechanics of the BSE, how it got its look and how I could go out to dinner, too. I also learned that Battlecat likes talking about herself in the third person.

BSE in Paris
Me showing some BSE love at the Louvre

France: Where did you get the idea to start BSE?
Battlecat: Three woebegone friends were on a long hike in the ferocious Malibu wilderness. They were hungry… cold… and detrimentally bored with the same ol’ night-life scene in Los Angeles. So they came up with a mission to change the world as they knew it. At least as far as eating out goes.

How often do you go out for dinner?
Battlecat: BSE meals are every other week. The default day is Thursday, but if you’re hosting the dinner that week and you want to stay home and watch Lost, you can move the dinner to Wednesday or something.

How do you choose where to go for dinner?
Battlecat: Well, we go down the list of the 12 founding members of the BSE, and each gets to choose a restaurant. The very first BSE was technically La La’s Argentinian Grill on Melrose in West Hollywood. I think that was chosen ’cause it was walking-distance to the person’s house who picked it. Ha.

BSE Teamsters
The founding BSE teamsters

Who gets invited to dinner? Can anyone join the club?
Battlecat: The founding teamsters who are supposed to be the only ones who choose the restaurants, but we’re pretty lax about that rule and have electoral votes for outside people to host dinners, too. We also have weekly columns on various subjects that really anyone who wants to write can, like “Margarita Tuesdays” and the “Math Column.”

When you become a BSE teamster on our website, you are treated as one of our own — we send you comments, we reply to every single email we get, and we just slam you with adoration and reverence beyond your wildest nightmares. For example, if you regularly email the BSE and we run into you on the street, be forewarned that you’ll probably get screamed at in a fury of love, tackled, and go home in a new shirt made of BSE stickers.

How did you choose your nicknames?
Battlecat: Each founding member chose their names on their own. So I’m not really sure how Nipples or Garbage came about, but I know I thought Battlecat (He-Man’s devoted companion/mode of transportation) was a perfect match for me. Especially since I’m usually the designated driver. And I wear a suit of armor regularly.

What has been your favorite dinner so far?
Battlecat: OOoo… tough question. But I’d have to say Medieval Times was hands down the most fun I’ve had in the past 5 years of my life. Something about screaming and no napkins got me going. I’m all about the atmosphere.

BSE at Medieval Times
BSE goes to Medieval Times

Have there been any dinner disasters?
Battlecat: Oh man, there was a very early-on BSE that was at Havana’s, a Cuban restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The Citysearch review said that it had live music and dancers and looked like a rowdy good time. This is obviously why you should never use Citysearch: When we got there, we were one of the two parties in the whole place and it was in a shopping plaza. There was one server/bartender/hostess/cook taking care of us who served us the driest chicken on the planet — which took about an hour and a half to get. Then, the only other patron in the building had a STROKE! (I kid you not.) Following that, ambulances came, there were fireman, yada yada yada. It was hilariously awful.

Do waiters and other restaurant staff hate you?
Battlecat: One would think. But we are an inordinately cheerful group — I think our unceasing good moods spread through the restaurant when we’re there. BSE evenings frequently end in a sing-a-long with the staff. We have video if you need verification on that statement.

How many people are visiting your MySpace page?
Battlecat: We’re what you consider a “secret” club, so we’re very elite momentarily. Haha — we get around 1,000 hits a day, but we get new friend requests daily, and our numbers increase daily, too.

Who takes the photos and how do they get that awesome glowy effect?
Battlecat: Ha ha… well, Battlecat is the in-house BSE photographer. I actually have a degree in photography and graphic design from Kent State in Ohio (holla!), so that comes in handy when building the reviews. As for the “glowy” effect — I WILL NEVER REVEAL MY METHODS! But if you own a 2004 Cannon Elf SD110, you probably know my secrets far too well.

Who does the graphic design work on the site?
Battlecat: Battlecat, Battlecat, Battlecat! Who would’ve thought that what you learned in school could be FUN!? Not me.

BSE Pain Chart
The BSE pain chart

Why is BSE on MySpace as opposed to a blog or other type of site?
Battlecat: Myspace is super-easy to use. And I’m into that… because I’m lazy. And it’s just way easier to get readers cause it’s such an intense network. It’s nice that it’s interactive, too — people can post comments or pictures and everyone can see them. And we can post comments to people, too. WE WORK FOR THE PEOPLE! WE ARE THE PEOPLE! HASTA LA VISTA BOREDOM!

Do you think you could ever make any money off this idea?
Battlecat: Well, the original idea was to create an outlet for our friends to actually do something to entertain each other, as opposed to sitting on bar stools and starring at each other — not particularly to be lucrative. But if we could get our act together and start a real website outside of Myspace, we could probably make some advertising money. I really don’t know.

The BSE TV show has also been mulled around a bit. We’ll see. It’s hard because each of us in the BSE are just real people with 9-to-5 jobs, so there isn’t much extra time to work with. That’s also the charm of us, too. In the end, the concept of the BSE is pretty much golden, and it’s more fun than I’ve ever had in regards to a nightlife scene. So I’m pretty sure I’ll be a millionaire in about 2 months.

What’s the long-term plan for BSE? World domination?
Battlecat: Well, we’re in search of the BEST SUPPER EVER! Duh. I don’t know what we’ll do when we find it. I guess be on the search for a “better” supper.

Thanks, Garbage, for setting up this interview. Everyone else, don’t forget to go visit the BSE!

New York in a New York Minute

MoMA Gallery SpaceI’m sure I’ll be posting a bit more, with photos and better descriptions, but Evan and I got back from our New York weekend today.

We left from Gatwick airport Friday morning and had a 2-hour delay off the bat since our plane didn’t arrive on time. After an uneventful flight — Evan slept and I finished reading Youth in Revolt (very funny) — we got to Newark, took the train to our hotel (the W, very nice) and got ready to go out to dinner.

We had Greek food (yum), went to see Towards Darkness (unfortunately the theater wasn’t very full, though it was well-received by the friends and family who came), and went out for drinks at the Thirsty Scholar (fun!).

Saturday we went to MoMA (very cool, check out the photo), walked through Central Park (always lovely), had Mexican food in DUMBO (quite an adventure to get to, though the food was delicious), and went out with friends at B Bar.

Sunday, we had brunch (I miss American-style brunch), Evan bought a camera, we had drinks with a friend, then spent a long time in Newark airport waiting for our flight (we were early). The flight was bumpy. Evan slept; I didn’t. I did, however, completely conk out on the train in from Gatwick. I also managed to take an accidental 6-hour nap this afternoon (oops) while Evan was at work.

More about the weekend soon.

Also, check out my latest Hitched article, “Online Tools to Keep You Organized.”

National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square and Dinner Drama

Today, I went to the National Portrait Gallery with Evan. We didn’t have time to see the whole thing — we got about halfway through, and the Vanity Fair exhibit was sold out — so we’ll have to go back again. Good thing the museum is free.

Though it rained earlier today, the afternoon turned out to be quite nice, and we got a few good photos in Trafalgar Square, in front of the National Gallery and the large fountain there.

Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, London

After our time in the museum, we were ready for a snack and stopped at a nearby French cafe (I don’t remember the name and couldn’t find it when I searched online). I ordered a cappuccino, tap water and a Spanish omelet. Evan ordered sparking water and a panini. It took about 15 minutes to get my coffee, and more than 30 minutes later, we were still waiting for our food. And getting grumpy.

Nobody had come by to ask how we were, even though we were sitting right in front of the counter, and we finally asked them to check on our order. They found the order slip right behind the counter and asked us if we still wanted our food. Nobody had started on anything and they didn’t seem keen to. They weren’t apologetic about it at all, either. I also never even got my water. Serves us right for stopping near Leicester Square.

We were ready to get out of there, so we paid for our drinks and headed to Cookbook Cafe to get a good diner.

Thankfully, Cookbook Cafe yet again proved a good choice. We had salads and starters from the market table, a creamy onion soup, mushroom risotto and a nice selection of desserts from their pastry workshop table. We also had some delicious fizzy berry, elderflower and prosecco cocktails, with lots of muddled berries at the bottom of the glass.

A Valentine’s Day Date at Cookbook Cafe

Cookbook Cafe

Last night, Evan and I went out to Cookbook Cafe to learn to mix drinks, dance salsa and have a nice dinner. Unfortunately, the salsa portion of the evening had been canceled and nobody had told us or put up a message on their website, but they adjusted the price accordingly, and we enjoyed the rest of what the evening had to offer.

First, I’d been to the cafe at lunch and liked its chic but relaxed atmosphere, market table overflowing with food and friendly service. We got all of that last night, plus a little lesson on making a rose petal martini, which I wrote up for Londonist (“Lessons Learned: Making a Seductive Martini“). The restaurant was pretty empty, which was surprising since of course it was Valentine’s Day and they had a really fun-sounding offer with all the activities and dinner, though it was a bit pricey. I think they need to step up their marketing. They also need to follow through on what they do advertise, as I had the problem with the chocolate class earlier in the month, too.

Still, we had plenty to eat, with all the salads and simple appetizers on the market table, an “oyster cappuccino,” which Evan tried — it involved some sort of frothy oyster soup in a little cup. For the main course, Evan had lamb and I had mushroom ravioli, and for dessert we had chocolate fondue as well as other little cakes, cookies and fruit salad from another free-reign sort of table.

Our biggest regret: We should have made ourselves another martini with the mixology master, since that was fun, though over quite quickly. All in all, though, a very nice Valentine’s Day.

Lunch at L’Artiste Muscle and Coffee at Brasserie Al Hamra

Today, my lunchtime excursion was a two-parter. I stared with soup and salad at L’Artiste Muscle on Shepherd St. and went for a cappuccino at Brasserie Al Hamra, the quiet little coffee shop I’ve been to a few times already.

At L’Artiste Muscle, I was shown to a table that I practically had to hold my breath to get into — it was in a tight corner or windows and walls and next to a table to four. I ordered the soup of the day, parsnip carrot, and a small green salad. The soup was decent, but unexciting. It was a bit thick, and there was too much parsley on top. The salad at first seemed to be OK, but once I got past the top layer, I realized it was absolutely drenched in a mustardy dressing. I couldn’t each much of the bottom half. I was also a bit puzzled that my soup and salad didn’t come with any bread — it was listed on the menu at £2.50, which seemed a bit excessive, since I only wanted a roll.

I was surprised because the place was filled with respectable-looking businesspeople and every time the waiters would bring plates out to other tables, I wondered what was being served because the dishes looked quite good, especially the bigger salads. I might go back to try something else, and it’s also a wine bar, though not knowing much about French wines I don’t have much to say about their list without having tasted anything.

I decided not to get coffee at the restaurant and went over to Brasserie Al Hamra, which I knew was quiet and comfortable. It’s also impeccably clean. Today was the first time I’d been in there when there had been other customers, and it was nice to see them getting some business. I still haven’t tried any of their food, though. I also took some pictures, which I’d been meaning to do since I first went in there, since the place is quite cute, with its fields-and-clouds murals, skylight and fireplaces. It also has a nice big flatscreen TV tuned into BBC news.

Brasserie Al HamraBrasserie Al Hamra

I also have a new post on Londonist for the day: “Diggers, Sledgehammers and Angle Grinders, Oh My!

Churchill Museum and Chinese New Year

London Chinese New YearSunday, Evan and I went to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, then went to Chinatown to celebrate Chinese New Year. The museum had some interesting displays, but the part about Churchill seemed a bit disorganized, since we were skipping around through different parts of his life. There were some really neat interactive exhibits, though, like a very long, tabletop timeline that had folders you could click on to expand and open.

The cabinet war rooms were actually pretty interesting, but we were a bit rushed getting through them since we got to the museum about an hour before closing time. It was definitely a bit creepy down there, since there were of course no windows and everything was pretty cramped. I read in my guidebook that it wouldn’t have survived a bomb, either. And it was in a pretty obvious spot to target, since it’s right by 10 Downing Street. Guess they got really lucky.

We walked to Chinatown after the museum closed, just in time to miss all the shows and fireworks. It was still pretty ridiculously crowded, but we fought our way beneath the festive red lanterns to a Chinese restaurant Evan had been to before called Fung Shing. We had a bit of a wait and ended up chatting with a couple we were sitting next to while waiting who were a bit ahead of us in line, and they invited us to join their table.

ChinatownI had a great tofu and stuffed peppers dish and Evan had duck. Our new friends, Robert and Annette, had curry crab and lemon chicken. It was great to talk to some new people — he is from Manchester, she is from Zurich — and we all shared a bottle of wine.

Evan and I went to see Juno afterwards, which was great. I’d seen it already, but liked it just as much the second time, even though the ending makes me sad. I don’t know why the happy ending is so sad for me. Maybe it’s the dad telling her that she’ll be back there someday on her own terms. Or maybe it’s the sweetness of the love story and how everything magically goes back to normal. Whatever it is, despite the sometimes over-the-top dialog, the movie has a lot of heart (wow, that’s so cheesy, I can barely believe I just wrote that).